Just days before he is scheduled to head to Indianapolis for the NFL combine, Missouri defensive end Michael Sam has made a shocking revelation. The SEC Defensive Player of the Year disclosed to the New York Times on Sunday that he was gay, putting himself on a path to become the first publicly gay player in the National Football League.
That truth was first revealed to his Missouri teammates after coaches separated players into small groups at a preseason football practice last year for a team-building exercise. Players were asked to talk about themselves, including discussing something that their teammates might not know about them.
It was then that Sam balled up a piece of paper in his hands and made his announcement. “I’m gay,” he told his teammates and friends.
“I looked in their eyes, and they just started shaking their heads — like, finally, he came out,” Sam said in his interview on Sunday.
The timing of Sam's revelation is certainly a bit questionable. It seems likely that Sam could have kept his sexual orientation under wraps until after May's NFL Draft. Instead, he will now face hoards of questions regarding his sexuality at the NFL combine.
Ideally, Sam's declaration will have no impact on his draft status. But realistically, there are coaches, General Managers, and/or owners who will be inclined to shy away from being the first locker room to welcome openly gay player, even if none of them would ever admit it.
Despite this fact, the All-American defensive end decided to take the courageous path and reveal his secret to the world. Sam indicated that he wanted to be sure to get his story out there before someone else did so for him.
“I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” said Sam in an interview with the New York Times. “I just want to own my truth.”
Sam also recognizes the magnitude of his revelation, and understands that he is on his way to uncharted waters. Much like San Diego Chargers linebacker Manti T'eo last season, Sam will become one of the most scrutinized players in this year's draft class until he shows his skills on the football field.
"I understand how big this is," he said. "It's a big deal. No one has done this before. And it's kind of a nervous process, but I know what I want to be ... I want to be a football player in the NFL."
Listed at 6 feet 2 inches and 260 pounds, Sam is projected to be a mid-round selection in this year’s NFL Draft. In his final season with Missouri, Sam recorded 48 tackles with 19 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks as he led the Tigers to a 12-2 record.
Dan is an NFL correspondent for Examiner.com. Follow Dan on Twitter at @danpfeiffer74 for breaking NFL news.